Lonely Planet Temple Walk
Our day began with a delightful breakfast at our B&B – Khao Gai Pad Khing (usually sautéed chicken stir-fried with fresh ginger and garlic, with steamed rice). The chef substituted a ‘meaty’ mixture of mushrooms for the chicken. Perfect fuel for the morning walk.
We did the reverse of the Lonely Planet self guided city tour, mainly because their ‘end’ point was closer to our accommodation, and why add to a 2.5km walk by schlepping across to the other side of the city to start it? Each day so far we have walked a minimum of 10kms, not bad going, and it justifies the gastronomic indulgences!
So we began with Wat Chiang Man, the oldest wat in the city, which is impressive in a city with over 300 temples! It was established by the city’s founder, Phaya Mengrai, around 1296, and contains the oldest known Buddha image created by the Lanna kingdom. A lot of the temples in Chiang Mai, especially the large ones of significance, have gardens as well. This one had a koi pond that acted like a moat for a small temple that looked to need a drawbridge to get to it from the viewing platform.
The trinity of museums on the walk could be visited with one pass that gave entry to all three. The Lanna Folklife Museum, Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre and Chiang Mai Historical Centre all contained informative and engaging exhibits on the history of art and culture of the Lanna people and this city. The bonus of hitting the museums was the blessed relief of the airconditioning, which was cranked up to the point where the people working there were in layers. The museums weren’t crowded either, which is a shame for business, but good for us! One thing that was different to pretty much every other museum we had visited in every other country is that there were no gift shops. Although the Chiang Mai Historical Centre (the largest of the museums) appeared to be undergoing a bit of a make over, so maybe one is being added.
By time we got to the end (or rather, beginning) of the Lonely Planet walk we were sweaty and hungry and not in the mood for another temple. So we ditched it (knowing we still had several days to go in Chiang Mai) and walked to Ruen Tamarind for lunch. This oasis is an exclusive boutique hotel in the middle of the old town, and would be a delightful place to stay…if not for the fact that the guest pool is the view from the restaurant. So if privacy in your bathing suit is a priority, you’re not going to get it there!
We chose this spot for a meal because of the unusual vegetarian options on offer, and were so glad of our choice. We had Yum Miang (Burmese Style Tea Leaf Salad), which was fermented tea leaves mixed with organic peanuts, tomatoes, shallots, green chilli, ginger and shredded cabbage dressed with fish sauce, garlic oil and a squeeze of lime, plus Kuay Tieow Khao Khlong Phad Pongkari – Wok-fried organic brown rice noodles with baby bok choy, fresh celery, chilli, yellow curry, turmeric and coconut milk. Both were unique and wonderful and we couldn’t get enough. We did start with a cocktail – Sawadee Jao: lemongrass and ginger infused with vodka and gin, passionfruit, longan honey, and lime Juice. From there we moved onto a Sauvignon Blanc from France, ‘Les Solstices’. Everything about this meal was spot on, but I don’t know how I would feel as a hotel guest being the entertainment for those dining.
Pool lounges in the shade in the garden oasis of our own B&B without being on display to the general public at lunch was an appealing option for our afternoon hours, so we perched ourselves there, dipping in and out of the pool and chatting with friendly guests about their travels. Had intended to read and catch up on some writing while by the pool, but when there is conversation to be had about travel and adventures, work is pushed aside.
Ploen Rudee Night Market
There are a number of spots in one focal area of the city with the moniker ‘night market’ attached. We chose Ploen Rudee for our night market experience as it had the best vibe of the lot, mainly because it was outdoors (others had the ambiance of shopping malls, or regular produce markets). There was music and lights and kids playing, but it was all just getting started when we were there, which made for very fresh food and short lines at the food stalls. After doing a couple of circuits we settled on a simple stir-fried cauliflower and a soda laced with lime and kaffir lime. Healthy, cheap and cheerful.
Wat Phra Singh
The next day we crossed the old city again and visited the temple we gave up on the day before when the heat and sweat had gotten too much for us – Wat Phra Singh. We didn’t go into the temple itself as there was a private ceremony going on, and we thought it would be poor form. Didn’t stop a lot of others, but we were happy to just wander the grounds and enjoy the gardens and exteriors of the temple. We were particularly impressed with the gigantic golden stupa at the rear of the complex, it reminded us of Myanmar.
Three Thai boys came up to us and one asked to interview me for his school project – I must be very approachable. Of course, I said yes, and he smiled and giggled and asked his six questions in English, carefully writing down my responses as he went. He did well. I hope he gets a good mark for his work.
From there we visited the Nong Buak Hard Public Park – the only public park within the Old City. It’s amazing how precious green spaces are in cities. We didn’t tarry, though, as we had to grab lunch on our way to a fitting at the tailor’s.
We had chosen AUM Vegetarian for its reviews on TA, and good vegetarian restaurants in any country are often hard to find. This was a little family run business in a tiny space. The food was tasty and fresh, and reasonably priced. We had a kale and broccoli stir-fry and a steamed vegetable salad The stir-fry was the best of the two choices, the other was still good, but had starchy veggies as the base, which we aren’t particularly fans of.
Clothes fitting, walking, shopping and a full body traditional Lanna massage filled our time after lunch until it started to rain. We just managed to get back to the hotel before it bucketed down. Probably still could’ve gone for a swim, but the rain took the sting out of the heat, which made it most pleasant.
We caught a tuk tuk to our dinner restaurant, Reform Kafé (part of the Green Tiger House – Chiang Mai’s first plant-based hotel, which was also incredibly cool and would be a viable option for those wanting to be based in the old town). One of the best dinners, certainly of the trip, probably ever in terms of the outstanding flavours and value for money combo – it was only $13AUD!!! AND we ordered too much food!!! We went with a stir-fried beans, coconut shoots, mushrooms, young peppercorns and chilli and a mixed vegetable, with brown rice. To serenade us during dinner was a cute tiny frog merrily barking like a dog in the water feature.
After dinner we took a leisurely walk through the top corner of the Old Town back to our B&B. It was such an eye-opener to the city. It was how I imagined Chiang Mai to be when we planned the holiday – narrow, character filled streets with people living their lives and evidence of culture everywhere, including the vibrant and evocative graffiti art.
Our adventures continue in Chiang Mai…
Read our full Chiang Mai story here:
Part 1: Arrival and Initial Explorations
Part 2 (current): Temples, Walking and Food
Part 3: Cooking School and Elephants